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Panizzi’s red wines – Excellence beyond Vernaccia

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The iconic producer, known for its benchmark range of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, is proving the local potential to craft superior red wines, not least by pioneering the cultivation of Pinot Noir.

Founded in 1989, Panizzi has, in its almost 35 years of history, set the benchmark for Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Thanks to the passion, knowledge and relentless commitment to quality of its founder and team, the winery has become synonymous with this unique Tuscan white grape variety and the eponymous appellation. Panizzi has single handedly elevated the quality standard of Vernaccia di San Gimignano wines, the precise expression of the San Gimignano terroir and unveiled the ageing potential of this sometimes underestimated variety.

While Panizzi’s core range remains dedicated to the different, nuanced expressions of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the winery’s team has also dedicated important research into the potential of local terroirs to produce superior reds. The same conditions that allow Vernaccia to deliver wines of incredible precision – with a fine mineral backbone, subtle acid line and poised texture – are also conducive, the Panizzi team believed, to create filigreed red wines, namely of the fussy Pinot Noir variety. Time has proven them right.

San Gimignano’s other face

Unbeknownst to most, San Gimignano is also a distinct appellation for red wines. Production has so far been mostly associated, as elsewhere in Tuscany, with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Panizzi’s own red production started with a blend of these varieties: Vertunno Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG Riserva, made from 90% Sangiovese (90%) and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (10%). Now in its 30th release (2019 vintage) it has been produced as a single-vineyard bottling since 1989.

Today, Vertunno sits alongside Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG, Torre Larniano Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG,  and Folgóre San Gimignano DOC to form Panizzi’s more ‘traditional’ red range, based on the trio of varieties. The latter has pride of place as a very limited production (4000 bottles/year), released in excellent vintages only. It yields from one-hectare Lyra-trained vineyard (pictured below), whose vines reflect the wine’s final blend – Sangiovese (60%) Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Merlot (20%) – and are all harvested together based on the ideal phenolic maturity of the Cabernet. The result is a wine of particular balance and vibrancy, that retains a distinct crunchiness and freshness, while also having plushness of fruit.

Burgundian vocation

This elegance and energy, achieved by Panizzi in its Tuscan blends from its very beginning,  led the viticultural and winemaking teams to explore the untapped potential for one of the most treasured and delicate red grapes: Pinot Noir. Panizzi has led, for more than 15 years, a research project exploring the potential of the San Gimignano terroirs for the growth of the French variety.

Aided by strict sustainability practices (most Panizzi wines are now certified organic) and precision viticulture, the approach is not dissimilar to the terroir specificity Burgundy has become known for, and which has shaped the global understanding of Pinot Noir.

The first outcome of this quest was San Gimignano Pinot Nero DOC, easily recognisable for its blue label. Hailing from the four-hectare La Ventola vineyard – planted in 2006 by Simone Nicollai, who purchased Panizzi from its founder Giovani Panizzi – it has, for over 10 vintages, proven the affinity of the plot with Pinot Noir. Sitting at 410 metres above sea level and planted exclusively to Burgundy 777 clone vines, La Ventola has consistently delivered a delicate, fresh style of Pinot Noir, reminiscent of pre-climate change Burgundy. This consistency motivated the team to create a ‘big brother’, with carefully selected grapes, that could best capture the character of a San Gimignano Pinot Noir.

Walter Sovran

Ermius (the Etruscan for August) was thus born as a challenge in itself, within a research project special in its own right. This perfect expression of the French variety’s local identity, was crafted as a collaborative effort between Panizzi’s head winemaker, Walter Sovran, and Tuscan consultant Alessandro Cellai. By combining Sovran’s unparalleled knowledge of the appellation and local terroirs and Cellai’s experience with Pinot Noir, Panizzi has been able to establish another benchmark: world class Pinot Noir with a Tuscan identity.

Faithful to its founding ethos – terroir-driven quality and innovation aware of tradition – Panizzi has sought to confirm a precious insight: that San Gimignano’s excellence is not a tale of one grape or colour and that Pinot Noir has a valuable new home while it faces a challenging future elsewhere.

The red wines of Panizzi

Tasted and scored by the Decanter team. 

Ermius San Gimignano Pinot Nero DOC 2020
93 points
Very elegant use of wood in this round yet focused expression of Pinot Noir. The tannins are fine and well presented. The fruit – a pleasant combination of deep black berries and crunchy pomegranate – is lined by spicy pepper and cardamom. Organic certified.

San Gimignano Pinot Nero DOC 2021
91 points
Very fresh and filigreed, with well-defined red cherry and cranberry aromas, underscored by a zesty streak of blood orange. The tannic structure is firm but fine-grained. Crunchy and fresh, perfect for a by-the-glass offering. Still young and a bit coiled but will surely open up in the coming months. Organic certified.

Vertunno Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG 2019
93 points
A very smart Sangiovese-based blend, with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot adding depth and breadth. Very elegant, with gentle savouriness and crunchy acidity. Good concentration of red fruit without loss of freshness. The poised tannic structure promises a good development in bottle in years to come.

Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG 2020
92 points
Made of 100% Sangiovese, this is a vibrant and focussed expression of the variety. The fresh, quasi-mineral structure carries the red fruit with ease. The crunchy red cherries rest on a delicious layer of amaretto and are supported by fresh, zesty tannins. Organic certified.

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